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Self-Amusement—It’s Not What You Think

February 23, 2010

There’s no excuse to be bored. Sad, yes. Depressed, yes. Crazy, yes. But there’s no excuse for boredom, ever.
• Viggo Mortensen, actor, poet, musician, painter, photographer (Hmmm–no wonder he’s not bored!)

I am easily amused. I am glad that I am easily amused. When I read a headline that says “You Really Can Be Bored to Death, Researchers Say,”* I am particularly delighted that I am never bored. This is not to say that I am never doing something I don’t particularly enjoy doing or that I never have to sit through long meetings about things I don’t care about. I do work, after all, and no matter how engaging any job is, there’s likely to be some drudgery attached to it.

Still, my mind always actively seeks out ways to connect whatever it is that is not interesting to me with something that is. Just like the occasional student in the classroom, my mind wanders if I’m not interested in what’s happening. (Most of you are interested in all your classes, right? Say “of course” right now.) The difference between boredom and interest in potentially unengaging situations is that I have learned to discipline myself to pay attention to the things that matter whether or not I have a personal connection with them.

When I realize that I’ve gotten myself into something that has no relevance for me, I tune out and write poetry in the margins of my notebook or make lists of things I need to do or jot down some notes about projects I’d like to begin. If you’re a student in a class that you need to pass, whether it’s a prerequisite or part of your major or minor or just one that you need to keep in order to hang onto your financial aid, disciplining yourself to be interested in the initially-boring-to-you is a critical student success skill. Tuning out is not a wise choice. You know where it leads.

I must say that I am also aware that it’s refreshing to quiet my all-too-active mind. To sit still and let life flow around me. To empty my mind. This is not boredom, but is a deliberate rest that relaxes. It’s difficult to achieve. The seldom-bored mind does not like a void—it rushes to fill the emptiness with a deluge of swirling thoughts that must be captured and sorted. Beware the temptations of mind-emptying-nothingness. While it can certainly be beneficial for your health, this is not a skill that should be practiced in the classroom.

Cartoonist and illustrator Saul Steinberg claimed that “the life of the creative person is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.” This definitely relates to developing the skills of interest in school. As a creative human being who’s taking classes to get knowledge and skills that will help you have an interesting life, learning how to be interested even in those things that don’t at first appear to have any relevance for you is crucial.

What deliberate steps can you take to avoid boredom in school?

You’ll find boredom where there is the absence of a good idea.
• Earl Nightingale

Nobody is bored when s/he is trying to make something that is beautiful or to discover something that is true.
• William R. Inge

When I get real bored, I like to drive downtown and get a great parking spot, then sit in my car and count how many people ask me if I’m leaving.
• Steven Wright, comedian, actor, and writer

* http://www.ebn.benefitnews.com/blog/daily_diversion/you-can-bored-… (a post by Kelly M. Butler)

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